Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and Benefits
Launch 3 April 2006
Launch Speech - Rodney Croome, founding member, Australian Coalition for Equality Fairness.
I'll never forget the pain in Greg Brown's eyes as he recounted the moment he discovered he would not receive his late partner's superannuation despite being the nominated beneficiary.
In that one, awful moment the provisions Greg and his partner had made for Greg's life as a widower collapsed.
Greg channelled his pain into action and appealed to the Federal Court. He lost but the profile of his case put the superannuation entitlements of the same-sex couples at the cutting edge of the national gay and lesbian law reform debate.
It was no coincidence that in 2004, when the Prime Minister sought to give substance to his stated opposition to anti-homosexual discrimination, super was the issue he acted on.
The pain I saw in Greg's eyes I saw again some years later in the eyes of Trish and Angela, two women I knew from Hobart, then living on Melbourne.
Trish loved her job as an aeronautic electrician in the RAAF, but it threatened to tear her family apart because she'd been ordered to Darwin.
In the absence of personal and financial support to relocate, the kind of support her heterosexual colleagues took for granted, Trish couldn't expect Ang to quit her job or Ang's daughter to move schools. Trish left the ADF.
It was cases like Trish's which inspired the President of the Tasmanian RSL, Iain Kennett, to raise reform with the RSL National Executive.
In his words, he'd never paid much thought to gay rights. But that all changed when he encounted ridicule, ignorance and fear from some of his mates.
"I don't know how you blokes put up with it", he once said to me. He certainly didn't. With a stubbornness I've seen in a lot of Vietnam Vets Iain pushed equality until his colleagues began to seriously consider and then support it.
Over dinner late last year the RSL chiefs told the Prime Minister of their new position.
"If you fellows and happy with it, it'll change", he reportedly responded.
Soon after, the discrimination that had cost Trish her job and the ADF her talents vanished.
I have an unshakable faith that the Australian soul is shot through by a profound devotion to fairness.
I also believe few examples of unfairness have the potential to stir that devotion than the one we are here today to highlight.
But it's been hard to bring these two things together.
Progress has been so slow, Australia has fallen behind most other western countries.
That's why I began today with examples of discrimination against same-sex couples which have been removed.
How this happened holds valuable lessons for the conduct and outcome of this inquiry, and for the achievement of reform more broadly.
Australia's aspiration to fairness is stirred by practicality, not abstraction.
A personal story of hardship means more to most ordinary Australians than a hundred high-flown moral or legal principles. This inquiry must put those stories first, second and last.
A feature of its pragmatism is that fairness, Australian-style, loathes anomalies and inconsistencies.
If Trish were still in the RAAF, the military would relocate her family. But because equality for same-sex couples has yet to be extended to public sector super schemes Ang couldn't be her beneficiary, certainly not in the way Trish can he Ang's. Highlight that and you're half way home.
Australian fairness isn't infinitely magnanimous. It has its limits and one of those limits is heavy-handed international comparisons.
Many Australians are so sensitive to their nation appearing backward that they shut down when they discover it is.
I may find it compelling that we're at the bottom of the gay law reform list, below even Belize and Bulgaria, but point that out to many Australians and all they see are pink armbands.
An even more important limit is reached when tales of hardship become catalogues of complaint.
My point is not that this inquiry should camouflage the deep discrimination and disadvantage same-sex couples still experience.
It's that for each instance of disadvantage there is an equally compelling example of bravery in the face of adversity, and of love triumphing over prejudice.
No-one likes a whinger, but everyone loves a hero; heroes like Greg, Trish and Ian, and all those gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, our families, friends and allies, who have endured and resisted discrimination with dignity and patience, sure that the day will come when we will be required to endure and resist no more.
Today, thanks to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, that day is closer than ever.
Before I give up the lectern this morning, I'd like to take one more moment of your time to pay tribute to Danny Sandor who died in Melbourne just over a week ago.
Danny was a passionate and formidable advocate for GLBT equality both in his work for the former Chief Justice of the Family Court, Alastair Nicholson, and more broadly in Australian law and public policy.
Danny would have been proud that his nation is embarking on this new adventure in the long struggle for sexual equality, and he would have scoffed at the suggestion that his work helped bring us to this point.
But of course it did. Thank you Danny.